Modernism continues mistaking New Testament Jesus for MAGA Jesus by this rather subtle misreading of the New Testament:
6. That the religion that claims his name, teaches that his wisdom and teachings are the only legitimate way to know truth and God.
So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for
‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Ac 17:22–31).
“When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Ro 2:14–16).
Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Lk 10:23–24).
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (Jn 14:6).
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.” (Jn 14:8–11).
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Mt 11:25–27).
“For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” (Jn 18:37).
It is true that the early Christians, following Jesus himself, see him as the culmination of God’s revelation, since he is God in the flesh. So in the end, to know God is to know Jesus and vice versa. But at the same time, the early Christians have far more complex beliefs about those who, through no fault of their own, have never heard of Jesus or who are denied a clear understanding of him, or lived before the Incarnation. They certainly do not believe they alone have exclusive access to truth and God. Paul declares that the Jewish Scriptures are the “oracles of God” in Romans. They have a deep respect for the riches of wisdom that come down to them from their Jewish ancestors, as does Jesus: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Mt 13:52).
This is in keeping with Jesus own teaching in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in which he speaks of the judgment of the goyim and makes clear that neither sheep nor goats had the slightest idea that in their care or contempt for he least of these, they were in fact showing care or contempt for him.
Note again that he does not pit a just social order against heaven (as the author of these propositions does) but sees the one flowing into the other.
And the later Christian Church, by the way, so far from despising the learning of the pagan, will be the principle driver in preserving it from the wreckage of the late Roman Empire. Generations of monks will go blind copying and recopying everything they can get their hands on. It is more accurate to say that the early Christians see Jesus as the fulfillment, not only of the revelation to Israel, but of the best of pagan wisdom as well. It is only when Jew and Gentiles flatly contradict the word of Jesus that Christians reject their teaching in favor of his. Typically, like Paul on the Areopagus, they seek common ground. There’s a reason Michaelangelo alternates Jewish prophets and pagan sybils on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
When I was in the Reformed Church, this was their view:
This is not surprising.
The origin of the idea that there’s a binary between “true religion” and “false religion”, at least in Western Christianity, has its origins in John Calvin. Before him, it was all a matter of degrees—how close something was to the Christian truth, rather than the black-and-white true/false dichotomy.
He’s also the first to assert that “false religion” is purely man-made, the result of either runaway imaginations or sociopolitical factors— including “false” versions of Christianity—thus prefiguring atheists who would take this one step further. Before this Christians asserted all religious ideas came from the spiritual realm—it’s just that some were from God, while others were demonic in origin. And with respect to this, the idea was that non-Christian religions had a mix of both godly and demonic ideas/practices , of varying portions depending on the faith. Like obviously Islam is going to have a lot more ideas and practices that are in line with the fullness of the Christian faith than the Aztec human sacrifice cult. Though notice even the latter gets one thing right—our salvation requires someone sacrificed for us.
This is all to say—modernist Jesus, indeed! This part is VERY modern in the literal sense of coming post-1500. Though I hasten to add this was an idea of the Reformed in particular, we Lutherans never held it (Martin Luther held to the old Medieval/Ancient idea I outlined above).
At that time, I was very much a ‘pre-suppositionalist’. Cornelius Van Til was my prophet. Any attempt to reason about the faith was a secret attempt to place my reason above faith. I would have started with me and therefore could end up only with me – not God.
Reading Ronald Knox’s The Belief of Catholics was an astonishing experience of release from bondage. He runs through Aquinas’s five proofs. I almost skipped that chapter – I thank God I did not.